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Full text of "Alexander von Humboldt"

166                               UFE   OF
three, with almost a planetary formation, do not move
out of the planetary course, while the others float far
into space), a vaporous, rotatory ring., which seems to
be situated, "between Venus and Mars, to cross the
earth's course, and to appear to us in a pyramidical
form as the zodiacal light; also a host of asteroids,
whose course crosses that of the earth, or approaches
very near it, and then, attracted by the earth, fall
down as meteors, or star-shoots.
Humboldt has always observed the comets with
particular interest, and endeavoured better to compre-
hend the constitution and qualities of these strange
bodies. The old astronomer, Kepler, once said that
there were more comets in space than fish in the sea;
and according to modem astronomy, the course of
scarcely 150 has been computed.
It was to be expected that Humboldt would not
ss over in a superficial manner these remarkable
dies, which, with their small bulk, often scarcely
1 part of the earth, occupy, with their tail,
sometimes •millions of miles. Their form is varied;
sometimes only a cloud of light, a round, brilliant
vapour, with a denser centre, sometimes having
head, centre, and tail; sometimes changing as if it
were engaged in a process of formation, Huna-
"boldt endeavours, scientifically, to allay the fear that
a comet might some time conie into contact with
the earth. As these traaquillising reasons, which are
founded on calculations of probability, can only in-
fluence reflection and reason, and not a desponding
mood, or the imagination, science now has destroyed
fears which it formerly excited. It is on record that
returning comets have approached very near the earth,
like the Lexall-Burckhardt comet of 1770, which passed
within six moons* distance of the earth, and in 1767
and 1770 passed through the system of the four
moons of Jupiter, without causing the least disturb-
ance in their relation to each other, or to Jupiter. But
from the scientific facts that Jupiter and Saturn may
cause considerable diversity of a comet from its course